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Get kids outside by creating natural spaces

A fun backyard that encourages kids to appreciate the outdoors.

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Siblings Erin and Christopher Rogoff share their backyard with chipmunks, squirrels, bats, and rabbits.

They help their parents fill bird feeders, hang bat boxes, and plant fruits and vegetables to attract wildlife.

"The squirrels chase the birds, and Erin and me chase the squirrels," says 7-year-old Christopher, who loves playing out in his yard in Ocean, N.J.

His parents, Marc and Bernadette Rogoff, wanted to create a fun backyard that would encourage their kids to appreciate the outdoors, entertain themselves and have unstructured down time.

"It's really important to have a connection with the outside," Bernadette Rogoff says. "Kids really need time to figure out who they are. Goofing around outside gives them time to do that."

Landscapers and designers say that creating fun outdoor spaces can be simple and inexpensive.

Nancy Striniste, owner of the company EarlySpace in Arlington, Va., recommends designating spots for exploration, imaginative play and observing animals. Also be sure to include grassy areas for games, running and play sets, she says.

Plants, water and stepping stones can all play a role in creating a kid-friendly yard.

Ms. Striniste often uses stone pavers or border plants to make meandering paths for children. She plants herbs between the stones because their distinctive scents will make the adventure more fun and create long-lasting memories.

"The scent of lilacs just takes me back to my childhood," she says.

Fountains or small ponds also are fun because children love to play in water. Striniste's son spent hours last summer using a net to catch and release the goldfish that live in the family's backyard pond.

"We bought them for 25 cents at the pet store," she says. "They got big and had babies. It's very exciting."

A water element also will bring animals into the yard, Striniste says. Families interested in attracting animals should consult the National Wildlife Federation's guidelines for creating a backyard habitat. The federation awards certificates to households that meet the agency's requirements for providing food, water, and shelter for animals.

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